They were there at 8am, a full five hours before the funeral was due to start.
Doreen, 85, Jim, 65, and Gina – “70 and three quarters” – were simply determined to ensure they had a front-row seat on the day Watford celebrated the life of its favourite son. “He was and still is this club,” said Doreen with a big tear in her eye. “We wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Gina.
Gavin Ricketts, left wheelchair-bound by cerebral palsy, came all the way down from Mansfield to be in the crowd outside St Mary’s Church. “He’s a legend and I just had to be here.”
Tom Holman, 41, came from even further afield, making the long trek down from Cumbria just so he could pay his respects. “It was the least I could do given the memories he has given me and this club,” he said.
As Reverend John Samways put it: “Whatever conflict in the diary, this was where so many had to be.”
The 400-strong congregation inside the church read like a who’s who of English football. Sir Alex Ferguson was one of the first to arrive, Arsene Wenger one of the last. Ex-England internationals Lee Dixon, David Platt, Sir Trevor Brooking and Martin Keown also filed in and took their seats.
Iwan Roberts and Malcom Allen were two of the first of many of GT’s former players to arrive. The likes of Nigel Callaghan, Allan Smart, Neil Price, Nigel Gibbs, Kenny Jackett, Gary Porter, Tony Coton, Tommy Mooney, Ross Jenkins, Alec Chamberlain. Steve Sherwood, Darren Ward, Keith Millen, Steve Terry, Lloyd Doyley, Tony Daley, Steve Palmer, John McClelland and Gerry Armstrong followed them in.
You could have picked a pretty handy Watford XI out of that little lot. The age range of the ex-players spoke volumes for the longevity of Taylor’s Watford career and how he adapted his managerial style as the game evolved. John Barnes and Luther Blissett kind of fittingly arrived together, in tandem just like they were so often during Taylor’s first spell in charge.
Three of Taylor’s successors, Aidy Boothroyd, Malky Mackay and Sean Dyche, turned up in unison. David Pleat, Graham’s old adversary from Luton, was there. Joe Royle, Frank Clark, Howard Wilkinson and Barry Fry were part of the ex-managers’ union. Gino Pozzo, Scott Duxbury, Filippo Giraldi, Luke Dowling, Walter Mazzarri and Troy Deeney all arrived with a spring in their step after the fitting win over Arsenal the night before.
Oliver Phillips enjoyed a special relationship with GT, one that helped weave this great club into the fabric of the community, but he was not the only member of the media to make the pilgrimage. “It was a privilege and honour to be in St Mary’s Church,” said Mike Vince. BBC’s 5 Live’s Mark Chapman, Mark Pougatch and Ian Dennis were present as were Midlands beat reporters Pat Murphy and Pete Colley, a legacy of Taylor’s spells at Aston Villa and Wolves.
"It was a fantastic turnout for the boss,” summed up Nigel Gibbs.
Thousands more fans and patrons of the town stood on the bank outside and in the courtyard of the One Bell pub. Some perched themselves on the top of the Church Car Park to, as Gibbs put it, "celebrate the life of a wonderful man”. Some took the day off. Others took an extended lunch break. Even the weather largely played ball.
A selection of GT’s favourite songs blared out of the speakers of two large screens specially wheeled in for the occasion as the crowds steadily built up. The music of Buddy Holly and Sir Elton John featured prominently in Taylor’s Desert Island Discs. A hush descended at 12.45pm when three police motorbikes ushered in the hearse. A spontaneous round of applause broke out as the first tears and lumps in throat started to appear.
Once inside, Joanne, Graham’s daughter, fought back the tears to describe how “humbling and comforting” the family had found the outpouring of emotion from the football world to her father’s shock death on January 12. She spoke with great clarity and affection, regaling “how there was no more satisfying feeling than having a laugh at dad’s expense”, particularly when his treasured coat mistakenly ended up in a charity shop. “He was dad first and GT second,” she said.
We got to know more about Taylor the family man as the service went on. The Reverend revealed how GT was hopeless at DIY and how it took him 18 months to tile the bathroom. He wasted no time, revealed the Reverend, proposing to Rita, getting down on one knee at the age of 19.
Rita and Graham built a wonderful, loving, close-knit family. Rhianna, his eldest grandchild, recalled tales of how Graham was always “winding up” the grandchildren. She laughed at how he once put petrol instead of diesel in nanny Rita’s car. “He was always happy, always smiling and always laughing,” she said.
“Thanks for the giggles,” said Elsie, the second of his grandchildren. She said her grandad used to send them all a mystery Valentine’s Card every year but gave the game away by signing it with his trademark kiss in a circle.
Jake, the youngest of his grandchildren, recalled tales of how Graham used to play football in the back garden with him. “He always used to be Billy Wright,” said Jake. “We’re now a man down but I’ll look after the girls,” he said.
John Motson was given the honour by the family of reading out a message on behalf of the absent Sir Elton John. He reiterated how Graham was “like a brother to me” and how, together, they were “an unstoppable force of nature” as they drove Watford out of the backwaters, up through the divisions and into Europe. Taylor eventually left for Villa Park in 1987. “We were like Batman and Robin and when Batman left for Villa, Robin floundered and made some bad mistakes but I had to let him go.”
Via Motson, Elton went on to “thank him for everything”, particularly for a lecture Taylor gave him during a troubled period in his life. “That lecture shook me to the core. He said I had let him, myself and the club down. He was the most open and honest man you have ever met.”
Elton concluded his emotional tribute to “the genius from Lincolnshire” by “thanking him for everything”. Fittingly, Abide With Me followed Elton’s tribute, the hymn that had him in floods of tears during the 1984 FA Cup final, the high point of their partnership.
By the end of the service, which appropriately lasted exactly as long as a football match, some didn’t know whether to clap or cry. Many ended up doing both as the hearse headed slowly towards the crematorium. Rest in peace, GT.